Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Exploring and Hiking the Questa, NM Area

Posted from Santa Fe, NM
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

To view additional pictures on each hike click on the desired subject below:
             Chiflo Trail in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
             Big Arsenic Trail in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
             Black Rock Hot Springs Trail
             Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and West Rim Trail
             Las Vistas de Questo Trail

We finished our time in Colorado (for this season) and began our trip south into New Mexico.  On August 8th we pulled into Sierra Hermosa Campground in Questa, NM for the next two weeks. Where is Questa, NM you might ask? We didn't really know either, but we knew that we wanted to visit Taos during this stay and do some hiking in the nearby mountains.

Questa, NM is a very small town located approximately 20 miles north of Taos along RT522. The estimated population in 2016 was only 1754. The elevation is approximately 7500 feet. There is only 1 traffic light in the entire town and only 1 "real" grocery store. All of our shopping was done in Taos when we made visits there for other adventures. Questa is located along The Enchanted Circle, a scenic route which includes Taos, Red River, Eagle Nest, Angel Fire, and the Taos Ski Valley.

Because we hiked on several different days and on many different trails, I've decided to just address our hikes in this blog. The visit to Taos and other travels while in this area will be detailed in another blog posting.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument area is only a couple of miles north of Questa. This seemed like the logical place to begin hiking. On 8/9 we hiked both the Chiflo and the Big Arsenic Trails in this area. The Chiflo Trail is very short (about 1/2 mile OW), but fairly steep. We were the only ones around for the entire hike.

The Rio Grande River runs north to south thru all of this area.  The area is named the Rio Grande Gorge. This is the same Rio Grande River which finds its' way to the Gulf of Mexico eventually.

The second hike of the day (also in The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument area) was called Big Arsenic Trail. Although this trail is described as "moderate" in the park literature, the 680 feet drop in about 1 mile sure seemed tougher. The beginning part of the trail seemed innocent enough, however.

The trail heads into the gorge and eventually connects with other trails near the Rio Grande River.

Near the river, a cold water spring flows from the rocks and finds its' way into the river.

For some reason, we had forgotten that when a trail leads totally down hill in the first half of the hike, the second half will be all uphill. We took many more breaks on the way back to the rim.

While looking thru literature for this area, we came across a feature known as Black Rock Hot Springs. On 8/12 we decided to take a look. After a few miles of traveling on dirt and gravels road we came to the John Dunn Bridge. This bridge crosses the Rio Grande River just north of the Black Rock Hot Springs.

A short hike down a rocky trail leads to the springs, located right beside the river.

It might be a bit hard to see in the picture, but the two hot spring pools are located in the left side. The water temperatures are usually around 97 degrees, depending upon the height and flow of the river. We understand that this spot is very popular, and that clothing is optional.

It was a beautiful Saturday, but we decided to keep our clothes on and push on to our next destination.

Just a few miles south toward Taos, turn west on US64 and you will cross a 2-lane steel bridge known as the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, or the "High Bridge". The bridge was dedicated in 1965. It stands 565 feet above the Rio Grande River and the span is 1280 feet in length. This bridge is the 7th highest bridge in the United States and the 82nd highest bridge in the world.

Beautiful views, both north and south, of the gorge and Rio Grande River below are possible by walking onto the bridge.

A better way to view the gorge and river below is by taking the West Rim Trail. This trail probably runs south for at least 9 miles toward Taos, but we only hiked about 4 miles roundtrip.

The trail is flat and easy for almost anyone, but could be hot during high temperature parts of the year. As always, bring water. You never know what you might run across when hiking.  This one seemed pretty comfortable with visitors around.

The last hike I'll discuss in this post is named Las Vistas de Questa Trail. We made this hike on 8/16. Again, we saw no one else on the trail. This trailhead begins only a couple of miles north of Questa, right off of RT522.

The "draw" of this trail is that you ascend to two observation points atop one of the peaks in the center of  this picture and you then are greeted with beautiful views of the valley below.

This is the lower viewpoint. We stopped here for a lunch break before hiking higher.

We reached the higher overlook and we were greeted with a comfortable bench upon which to sit and ponder, all while looking at the views below.

What a great view of the valley below and of the mountains to the east. At this location, we are at an elevation of 8240 feet. You can see how much higher the mountains to the east are.

Well, that's going to do it for our initial blog on the Questa, NM area. Hopefully, you enjoy following us on some of our hikes.  In the next blog post, we'll take a look at other areas we visited (no more hiking for a bit).

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jeepin' Around Creede and South Fork, CO

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

To view other pictures not contained in this blog for:
       The Creede History Museum     Click HERE
       The Bachelor Historic Loop       Click HERE
       Summitville Jeep Ride               Click HERE

On 8/1/17 we pulled up the jacks and drove 96 miles east on US160 to South Fork, CO. Where is South Fork, CO you might ask? I thought the same. South Fork is located on US160 at the confluence of the South Fork and Rio Grande Rivers. The elevation is 8209 feet and the estimated population in 2016 was 365 people. Small town to be sure. There are no traffic lights in South Fork and only one fuel station. Did I say small?

We found out that the campgrounds in the area are favorites of Texans, in particular, to escape the summer heat. I don't believe we ran the air conditioners during the entire week we stayed at Peacock Meadows Riverside RV Park.  This RV park is relatively new (as of 2016) and as such, the landscaping leaves a lot to be desired. The nicest feature of this park is that the sites are nicely spaced. This was not true of many of the parks we saw in this area.  Many of the residents stay for the entire summer.

Much to our surprise, in a very small town like this, we found 3 pickleball courts to play on. The group of about 20-25 people played regularly several mornings each week. It was great fun to "stretch our paddles" after not really playing any since leaving Casa Grande in April.

The real draw of this area is the numerous opportunities for experiencing outdoor activities. We thought about renting an ATV or UTV, but later decided on renting a Jeep after taking a drive to Creede. On the initial exploration trip we visited the Creede Historical Museum.

The museum is located in the old train deport and has a wealth of artifacts pertaining to Creede's history.

I loved this old horse-drawn hearse.

We started to explore the town, but the rain get us from doing much of that on this visit. It seemed that we got rain every afternoon while in the area. (Yes, I know it's "monsoon" season here in CO.)

We rented a Jeep for the day from Elk Country Jeep Rentals  in South Fork. The full day rental actually turned out to be cheaper than renting an ATV or UTV.

One of the areas we definitely wanted to visit was Bachelor's Loop Scenic Drive just north of Creede. This is a 17-mile loop which follows Willow Creek up the canyon on the east side leaving Creede. It takes you to many of the old mine locations from the 1890s and towns which rivaled Creede in size.

The road is to the right of the creek in this picture.

One of the most intact mines is the Commodore Mine. The initial claim was staked by John C. Mackenzie in 1891. The mine continued to operate until 1976. There are 200 miles of tunnels and workings inside the 5 levels of the mine.

Not too far up the road is the Amethyst Mine. This was one of the two richest silver mines in the area back in the 1890s. The Last Chance Mine can be seen approximately 350 feet up the hill to the left.

On the second half of the loop is the Last Chance Mine. This is the other best silver producing mine in the 1890s. Several shafts in this mine range from 1000 to 1500 feet. The mine has been renovated by a private party in recent years and tours of the mine have recently begun.

In true "tourist fashion" even a gift shop selling jewelry with stones "mined" from this area has been recently opened.

Nearing the end of the loop there is an overview in the area of the Bulldog Mine. This provided a great view of Creede below.

The last part of the scenic loop to us to Creede Cemetery.  A lot of old tombstones in this area.

Some unusual markers as well.

After finishing the Bachelor's Loop Historic Trail, we headed south from Creede and pulled off the road to have lunch along the Rio Grande River. What a beautiful area on a beautiful day (up to this point, at least).

To make better use of our Jeep's capabilities we decided to head up the mountain roads to Summitville. This was the site of huge gold mining operations. In 1873, gold veins were located at 11,500 feet on Smith Mountain. The mining town of Summitville was created for the mining operations. Operations continued into the 1990s when the company which currently ran the operations went bankrupt. The leaching of contaminants into the local waterways eventually caused this area to be turned into a "Superfund Site". The government eventually spent $155 million of public funds to clean up the site.

This is a picture of the clean up site today.

Here is all that is left of the historic remains of Summitville.

The combined high elevations and rains (again,of course) ensured that we were about the only ones on the road today. Well, there were a few creatures wondering what the heck we were doing up here.

We finished off the day by driving down (and using true 4WD) to visit a high mountain reservoir. Beautiful area and not one other person around.

We only spent a week in South Fork, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice amount of things to do while there. Definitely a place to go if you'd like to get away from many of the "touristy" areas of CO. The air was cool and clean. We enjoyed ourselves!

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Driving the Million Dollar Highway (in the Fit)

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Enlarge)

Took view all of the pictures associated with this blog click HERE

Yes, I've managed to get behind in our blog posting again, but I wanted to make this last post about our adventure in Ignacio, CO before moving on. We decided to drive the "Million Dollar Highway" (US550) from Durango, CO to Ouray, CO.  Technically, the MDH moniker is most correctly attached to the section from Silverton, CO to Ouray, CO. It is only about 25 miles in length and loosely follows the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad line. There have been several versions of why the name MDH.  Some say it cost a million dollars per mile to construct, while others say that the highway contains a million dollars worth of gold ore.

The highway was constructed in 1883 by Otto Mears as a toll road between Ouray and Ironton (now abandoned). The road is a two-lane, windy path with very few guardrails and steep dropoffs along the edges.  Several points reach above the 11,000 feet level.

With all of that being said, the drive is beautiful. I know that many have taken their RVs along the entire route, but I'm not one of them. We, of course, started out on an overcast and rainy day, but the sky cleared nicely by the time we reached Ouray.

Honestly, the drive is not too bad coming north from Durango to Silverton. Mountainous, yes, but nothing "scary". We stopped in the Visitor's Center in Silverton to get a bit of local orientation.

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge train was just leaving Silverton as we walked in.

The stretch from Silverton to Ouray has the most beautiful mountain views (IMHO).

We stopped for a bit of sightseeing and roadside historical marker reading at Red Mountain Pass. The roadway in this area reaches just over 11,000 feet.

This area was collectively known as the Red Mountain Boomtown area. In the 1880s, six towns holding over 3000 people sprang up to support the numerous mines in the area. Today, abandoned mines dot the landscape.

As we got closer to Ouray, the skies began to clear and the views of the mountains were magnificent.

The Red Mountain area is aptly named as the iron oxide in the soil eventually finds its' way to the streams. The colorization of the rocks is seen beside us.

We're almost to Ouray now and the windy roads are made a bit more hazardous by the lack of guardrails along the steep canyon walls.

This is our first glimpse of Ouray from the highway above. As a sign nearby indicated, it reminded us of a Swiss town in America.

Ouray grew because of mining in the area. Prospectors first came to the area in 1875. At one time, there were more horses and mules in Ouray than people. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived in 1887 and would remain until 1930 when trucks and automobiles finally put an economic end to the rail line.

This is the main street thru Ouray today.  Obviously, much of today's economy is dependent upon the tourist industry.

While walking along the main street stores, we happened to see some spices in the window, which we probably should have purchased.

The Walsh Library was constructed in 1900 as a miniature replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA. The structure burned down in 1950, but a successful restoration in 1988 was able to restore the original facade. The building is currently used as City Hall.

Ouray was a "neat" little town to visit. You can easily feel yourself transported back to the early 1900s as you walk the streets and observe the buildings. We did manage to locate a modern day ice cream place to have some excellent ice cream before heading south again along the "Million Dollar Highway". If in the area, I would definitely recommend taking the drive. (I would leave the RV parked in the campground, however).

This is our last post about our activities while staying in Ignacio, CO.  We'll be moving on to South Fork, CO on August 1st. Yes, I realize that I'm behind in posting (again).

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Animas Museum in Durango, CO

Posted from Questa, NM
(Click on Pics to Englarge)

For additional pictures not presented in this blog,  Click HERE.

Karen and I love to visit local museums, so on July 31st we traveled up to the east end of Durango, CO to visit the Animas Museum.  The cost was $5/person for us and the small, but very interesting museum featured many items relating to the early days of Durango and Animas.

The museum is housed in the 1904 Animas City School building. This building served the students of Animas District #1 until it merged with the Durango District #9 in 1939. After that time it served as an elementary school until it finally closed in 1967. Once inside, visitors are given a nice brochure which allows you to tour the museum at your own pace.

One of the original classrooms has been restored to an early 20th century classroom. A lot of visitors can relate to the historical items found in the classroom.

I thought one of the more interesting items was a list of "1915 Rules for Teachers".

There is a large area devoted to early law and order in the area.

Also, many exhibits describe the early inhabitants of this part of Colorado.

Just outside the museum rests the "Joy Cabin". This is the oldest surviving intact structure in Durango. It was originally constructed in the 1870's and was occupied by many families.

The structure was moved to its' present location on the grounds of the Animas Museum in 1988. The inside of the cabin is filled with artifacts which give the visitor a glimpse into the life of early residents in this part of the country.

The Animas Museum is worth an hour or so of your time. The staff was very friendly and willing to answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!